Author Archives: amoyaan

Tao Te Ching 56: The Virtue of Silence

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– 56 –

Those who know do not talk.

Those who talk do not know.

~

Stop talking,

block off your senses,

meditate in silence,

release your worries,

blunt your sharpness,

untie your knots,

soften your glare,

harmonise your inner light

and unite the world into one whole!

This is the primal union or secret embrace.

~

One who knows this secret

is not moved by attachment or aversion,

swayed by profit or loss,

nor touched by honour or disgrace.

Such a one is far beyond the cares of men

yet comes to hold the dearest place in their hearts.

This, therefore, is the highest state of man.

Commentary

This verse begins with one of my favourite lines of the Tao Te Ching: “Those who know do not talk. Those who talk do not know.”

The loudest and most confident ‘authorities’ are often the most deluded because they tend to be rigid, set in their viewpoints and ignorant of their ignorance. Those that genuinely get it are often the quietest and humblest of people. They have no need to make a show of themselves, for they have moved beyond such cares. They know the virtue of silence.

Although the Tao is within and sustains all form as its deepest essence, it cannot be seen with the outer senses and is invisible to the eye. Therefore, it is necessary to go inward to get in touch with this essence.

Lao Tzu speaks of primal union or the secret embrace, which can be achieved by sitting quietly in meditation, closing off the outer senses and settling into a peaceful experience of inner union with our source. It’s not something we can strive after and seek to acquire as we would in the outer world of form, but something we relax into with effortless ease. It melts away our tensions, dissolves our problems and unties all our knots.

This primal union is the gateway to an experience of higher consciousness, which we can then invite into every aspect of our lives; a detachment and transcendence, an overwhelming and unconditional love and acceptance of life and all the beings and circumstances we encounter. This is, as Lao Tzu suggests, the highest state available to us.

Perhaps this is the only worthy goal we can ever have for our lives. The ironic part is that it’s not a future state we can hope to achieve and move toward. We’re already there—we’re already at one with the Tao—we just have to remove the obstructions of mind and habit and realise that we already are that which we seek. It could never be any other way.

If you have enjoyed this series on the Tao Te Ching, it is now available in a collected volume in both paperback and ebook format on Amazon! Be sure to check it out.

Why Books Have Become Devalued

Originally posted on The Dreamlight Fugitive:

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These are interesting yet precarious times for fiction writers. Although the digital revolution has given authors an unprecedented opportunity to share their work, it has come at a price.

The landscape has changed almost beyond recognition. It’s much easier to ‘be’ a writer now. Anyone and their uncle can churn out a book and have it published on Amazon Kindle that afternoon. In spite of this, it’s actually much harder to ‘make it’ as a writer, due to complete over-saturation of the market. Something in the range of 4,000 books are being published every single day. Competition can be a good thing, but it also has its downside. What happens when a market is oversaturated? The product in question inevitably becomes devalued, and so does the supplier of that product.

I believe the devaluing of fiction started off with supermarkets and online stores such as Amazon artificially slashing the prices of books. Publishers were in many cases willing to make…

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The Experience Equation

Following directly on from my last post, The 3 Levels of Reality and the Walls of our Mental Prison.

Our projections become our ‘reality’. This is caused by mistaking our thoughts for reality. These thoughts are the building block of our constructed reality and form the walls of our mental prison. What tends to cement these walls in place is a simple law: emotion follows thought. When we think painful, negative thoughts, we automatically generate painful, negative emotions. It’s basic cause and effect.

Try it right now. Take a moment to think about something terrible. Imagine something awful happening, or tell yourself that you are a big, fat, ugly loser. Hold that thought for a moment and then see how you feel in your body. What’s your visceral response to that thought? Does your body feel good, or does it feel tight, constricted and uncomfortable? Does the thought generate a positive, happy feeling or emotion, or does it make you feel unhappy, sad or anxious?

Now, brush that off and hold a positive thought in your mind. Imagine something wonderful happening to yourself or your loved ones, and tell yourself that you are a beautiful, talented, deserving and wonderful person. Hold that picture in your mind. Now check in with your body and notice how your body responds to these positive thoughts? Can you feel a sense of loosening and relaxing? Do you feel a warm tingle, or a sense of lightness and ease? Do these thoughts generate happier and more liberating emotions and feelings?

I’m willing to bet that this demonstrates to you the incredible power of thought in creating our emotional and feeling states.

The basic equation of experience is:

Consciousness + thought = experience

Consciousness is a given. Without consciousness, which I’m here defining as the baseline awareness that is forever with us–there is nothing. Consciousness is quite obviously the foundation of our experience, the light by which everything is known to us. While pure consciousness is immutable and unchanging, clearly something is always changing because our experience is never the same from moment to moment. What changes then, is thought.

If you’re still not quite on board with this, then recall our earlier analysis of experience. We don’t, and can’t, experience anything outside of us; outside of consciousness. Everything that we experience is experienced in our own consciousness, for consciousness is the medium by which we perceive and experience, in the same way that you can’t take photographs without film in the camera (in the pre-digital age anyway!).

Our senses relay stimulus, which creates representational images in our mind; thoughts that correspond with the sensory input. Everything that we experience is a thought in our mind. It sure doesn’t feel like that, I know, but there’s no getting around it. The wall I’m staring at across the room is a wall-thought; a representation of wall created in my mind.

To further highlight the interrelationship of thought and experience, consider the fact that everyone experiences things differently. A dozen people can be sitting in the same room, doing the same thing, but each of them are going to have a different experience because each are essentially experiencing their thoughts. The objective is so easily obscured by the subjective and we all tend to buy into what are essentially mind-generated projections.

Back to the cake example—I am given cake, which I then eat. The moment I cast judgement about the cake, whether I deem it good or bad, delicious or the most disgusting baked good I’ve ever come across, I am projecting. My likes and dislikes, which are unconscious, are creating a projection about the cake, a superimposition which I then believe is real. Reality for me becomes “this cake is delicious” or “this cake is disgusting”.

New thought equals new experience

If it’s our thoughts about reality that are actually driving our experience, this implies that in order to change our experience, the quickest and most surefire way to do that is to change our thoughts. A new thought equals a new experience. Thoughts really are that powerful. A single thought can actually change the course of an entire life.

Unfortunately it’s an exhausting and labouring process having to monitor, remove or change every thought that enters our mind. That’s why the positive thinking approach, while correct on one level, isn’t offering a particularly viable solution. Trying to remove or change every thought is like trying to empty the ocean of water or change the composition of h2o. Not only is it an impossible and fruitless task, it’s an unnecessary one. There’s a far more effective way of dealing with our thoughts and projections. And that’s what I’m going to share with you next…

The 3 Levels of Reality and the Walls of Our Mental Prison

reality-check-1

This is a continuation of my Jailbreak Your Mind series, which will form the basis of a self help book currently in the works! This follows on from the previous articles The problem of sufferingA mind at war and A revolutionary new understanding of experience and reality

We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are.

Anais Nin

The snake and the rope

Many years ago, so the story goes, a wandering monk arrived at a small village. Evening was creeping in and, and thirsty from his long journey, the traveller was relieved to find an old well at the edge of the village. But as he approached, eager to quench his thirst, he caught sight of a large snake sitting by the side of the well. Although it was getting dark, in the twilight he could clearly see its coiled body and upraised head. The snake, motionless, was clearly ready to strike. The monk was overcome by terror and instinctively froze on the spot. His stomach seized up in dread and he could feel beads of sweat dripping down his forehead. What was he going to do? From what he could see it was clearly one of the largest, most venomous snakes. Any sudden movement and the snake would get him.
Several long, agonising moments passed before an old man stumbled through the darkness toward the well, carrying a lantern. “What’s wrong?” he called to the monk, sensing his anxiety.

“Don’t come any closer,” the monk replied, his voice trembling. “There’s a snake!”

“Where?” the man asked. “I don’t see any snake.”

“Right there, beside the well.”

The old man took another step closer and let out a chuckle. “That’s no snake,” he said.

rope-snakeThe monk squinted. Now the old man’s lamp was illuminating the dark, he could see that he was indeed correct. What had presumed was a snake was in fact a rope coiled around a bucket at the side of the well, the tip of the rope sticking up like the head of a snake.

This ancient Vedanta story is a metaphor for the number one problem we face in life; specifically that we aren’t seeing things as they really are. We live our lives in a twilight state, for appearances can be and are deceptive, complexity abounds, and our understanding, knowledge and perception are always limited. It’s all too easy to mistake a rope for a snake and we do this all the time.

This process is called projection or superimposition. The mind interprets reality a certain way based upon sensory input. This then becomes our reality. We slip from objective reality and inhabit a world of subjective reality. While the snake has absolutely no reality at all and is simply a misapprehension created by the mind, it is completely real to us. We fully inhabit that subjective reality, experiencing all the anxiety, distress and fear that comes with it. The snake is very much real to us until knowledge (the light of the lamp) reveals to us our error. When that happens, our subjective reality collapses in an instant. Our projection vanishes, the bubble we were inhabiting bursts and we come back to objective reality.

Which level of reality are you inhabiting?

We touched upon this in the last chapter, but it’s so important I’m going to come back to it again. Vedanta speaks of three ‘levels’ of reality.

PARAMARTHIKA — The absolute reality, the ground of existence

VYVAVAHARIKA — Empirical, objective reality; the (shared) world of objects and forms

PRATIBHASIKA — Subjective reality; the (personal) psychological world we inhabit

The first level of reality, which we haven’t touched upon so far, is called paramarthika, or the absolute reality. This is the one, unchanging factor that underlies all changing phenomena; that which allows everything to exist; the ground of reality. One of the greatest Western philosophers, Immanuel Kant, described it as the noumenon at the root of all phenomena. The noumenal contains and provides the context of the intelligible world and all its contents, yet is beyond the mind’s ability to perceive, penetrate and know. It can only be inferred by examining the nature of experience. In terms of who we are, this is the very ground of our being, the root of pure awareness; the subject.

The next level is called vyavaharika (don’t worry about the long Sanskrit names, I’m not going to test you on those!). Vyavaharika is the empirical or objective reality; the world of shapes, forms and objects. This is the tangible world we all inhabit and provides shared experience. It is, in and of itself, value neutral. Although there is pleasure and pain, light and dark, there is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ until the mind assigns value to discrete experience. In our story, vyavaharika was the man approaching a well at night and encountering a bucket and rope.

The third and final level is called pratibhasika, which means subjective reality. This includes our dreams, imagination and also the level of superimposition and projection, where we filter our experience of reality and very often see what isn’t there. It’s on this level that we distort reality, either through the screen of our conditioning, likes and dislikes, beliefs or assumptions, or by our ignorance and lack of knowledge.

reality-illusion

In the story, the travelling monk slipped into this subjective level of reality by assuming that what he saw was a vicious snake. The suffering and anxiety it caused him was very much real, but it was based on an illusion. There was never a snake there. Therefore the only way out of this problem was to break the illusion and end his ignorance. This can only be done by knowledge, by reducing the subjective back to the objective and seeing what is really there as opposed to what we think is there. The monk overcame his fear and distress by shattering the projections his mind had made.

It’s so easy to slip from objective reality, from vyavharika, into subjective, pratibhasika. It’s quite natural, too. Let’s say I’ve made a cake and I place it on the table. The reality is: there’s a cake on the table. Then I invite two friends to have a slice. They’re both eating the same cake, but one of them likes it and the other doesn’t. Whether they say “it’s a lovely cake” or “it’s horrible”, both have moved into subjective reality. One cake, yet two different realities for two different people. Then we step outdoors and the sun is shining. My first friend, who is clearly the more agreeable of the two declares that “it’s a lovely day”. My other friend shakes his head and says “it’s too hot”. Again, there’s one objective reality, yet it’s splintered into two subjective parallel realities.

We’re forever flitting between the objective and subjective levels of reality. We do it so subtly and imperceptibly, at the drop of a hat. Without even having to think about it, the cake becomes ‘yummy’ or ‘yucky’ and the weather becomes ‘lovely’ to ‘too hot’. It’s really not the cake or the weather that we’re experiencing, it’s our thoughts about them that we’re experiencing.

The nature of thought and experience

This in itself isn’t a great problem. We all have our own likes, dislikes and conditioned responses, so the way that I might interpret a certain experience or situation will be different from the way that you interpret it. You say tomayto, I say tomato.

The problem is when our thoughts, interpretations and projections cause us to suffer. This happens when we interpret reality in painful, self-limiting, dysfunctional and destructive ways. When we have a limiting self image and think of ourselves as being worthless and inadequate little worms, or have a distorted view of the world and the nature reality, we suffer immensely.

Remember, these are just own own personal, subjective interpretations. It’s almost certainly a fact that such notions are not shared by everyone else, so they do not belong to the objective world, which is defined as empirical reality. We’re no longer in touch with reality. We’re lost in the realms of pratibhasika, the subjective, illusory reality—and we don’t even know it. As far as we’re concerned, that rope is a snake, that cake is horrible and the weather is too hot. Even worse, we’re maybe certain that we are unworthy, inadequate little losers, that our significant others are jerks and the world is a terrible place to be.

Our projections become our ‘reality’. This is caused by mistaking our thoughts for reality. These thoughts are the building block of our constructed reality and form the walls of our mental prison.

Next up: The experience equation!

Tao Te Ching 55: Like a newborn child

It’s been a while since I’ve posted in this Tao Te Ching series, so here we go again–and with a cute baby too! If you can’t wait to read more, all 81 verses plus commentary are now available in a collected volume available on Amazon in both paperback and ebook format.

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– 55 –

One who is in harmony with the Tao

is like a newborn child.

The infant is protected from insects,

wild beasts and birds of prey.

Bones are soft, muscles are weak

yet its grasp is firm and strong.

Though its mind is innocent,

its body is virile,

so intense is its vital power.

~

It can cry all day without becoming hoarse.

This is perfect harmony.

The child is one with the Tao,

living within harmony and grace.

This is why the child

finds eternity within a single day.

~

To know harmony is to know the Changeless;

to know the Changeless is to have insight.

The Sage understands that when something

reaches its prime

it will soon begin to decline.

To unnaturally try to extend life is not the Tao.

And whatever is against the Tao soon ceases to be.

~

Commentary

A newborn baby or young child is a perfect example of one who is in perfect harmony with the Tao. An infant cannot help but be at one with life, for its mind has yet to develop and attempt to take over the show. The infant does nothing, yet nothing is left undone. Its body is soft, flexible and weak, and yet contains tremendous power (sometimes when a baby or toddler grabs your hand it’s amazing how much strength they possess). The child has a great deal of integrity; there is no holding back, no role-playing, no getting lost in thought and conceptualisation—that will all come later, for better or worse.

The child expresses itself unreservedly, unapologetically, without any hesitation. It can be tremendously enlightening just watching a young child, for they live in a state of freedom and approach life with a great deal of immediacy and freshness. Until the ego develops and the child gets lost in a sense of “I”, “me” and “mine”, it approaches life effortlessly and largely without desire and preconception. Time is meaningless to the infant; the child lives entirely in the present moment, not yet lost in the mind-created concepts of past and future.

Lao Tzu advises us to “know the Changeless” as we progress through life and experience the inherently changeful nature of phenomenal existence. In spite of all the immeasurable changes that are forever occurring in and around us, what never changes? It’s worth spending time pondering this question. The answer is only within. Are you aware of the Changeless, or the ‘constant’ as some translations call it? Is it possible to be rooted in that?

Because the Sage is rooted in the Changeless, he is unafraid of outward changes. He lets all things come and go as they please, holding on to nothing. He has no expectations, no desires, no need to cling to the temporal. Thus is his spirit immortal and unchanging.

I’ve just published a brand new story (and it’s yours for free!)

Originally posted on The Dreamlight Fugitive:

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This week I released my first short story in over two years!

The provocatively-titled Kill The Past, Destroy The World is a prelude to my upcoming novel, The Key of Alanar. It tells the story of Mailyn, an embittered sorceress who returns to her homeland, determined to settle some old scores and seek revenge for the sins of the past. Guided by mysterious beings she believes to be ‘angels’, Mailyn is part of a dangerous plot that could spell the end for an entire world. Determined to set Alanar alight with the fire of the angels, only one man, the High Priest Ardonis, can stand against her and prevent her from unleashing a planetary apocalypse.

I found it a fascinating story to write, allowing me to explore the darker side of human nature, questioning what exactly makes a bad person ‘bad’. As a social science graduate, I learned years ago that human nature…

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A Revolutionary New Understanding of Experience and Reality

Lights of ideas

In the last post in this series, I explored the fundamental conflict at the heart of the human psyche. We’re at war! A war between who we are, who we think we are and who we are choosing to be in daily life. The cost of war is always immense, and the suffering can blight an entire lifetime. We become prisoners of our own mind, thoughts and concepts about ourselves.

The answer, as I suggested, is to lay down our arms, hold up the flag of surrender and learn to create a harmonious synergy between the the three aspects of the human ego: the essential self, the imagined self and the social self. I’ll be exploring this in greater detail later on; the art of living an authentic life that is in alignment with who we really are. As Socrates said:

“Give me the beauty of the inward soul: may the outward and the inward man be at one.”

A life without authenticity, without living in harmony with one’s own nature, is never going to be a particularly happy one. It took me a number of years to realise that it’s simply not possible to find lasting happiness when there’s a disparity at the core of our psyche: a gulf between who we are and who we are choosing to be in daily life.

Addressing this imbalance does takes a little time and work. It rarely happens at the click of our fingers, as nice as that would be. Before we can move forward, it’s important to recognise how the mind keeps us in bondage. That is the key to everything. Our entire experience of reality is filtered and distorted by the mind. The only way to be free is to understand this and learn how to make our mind work for and not against us.

What follows is an inquiry into the nature of experience. This may be the most important section of this series. Once you truly understand what I’m about to tell you, your life will never be the same again.

There is a way out of suffering and the good news is you don’t need to spend thousands on therapy, workshops, seminars, books and training. The mind is liberated by knowledge—knowledge of reality and how the mind works. If knowledge is power, then self-knowledge is liberation. All you need to do is read on with an open mind and be willing to reflect on what I’m about to share.

 Out of touch with reality

It was a bright Spring day and I decided it was time to take the dogs for a walk. So I put on my coat, leashed them up and set off. Although I was gone for about half an hour, before I knew it I was back at the door. I suddenly realised that I’d barely experienced the walk at all!

If you’d asked me to describe in any great detail where I’d gone, what the weather was like, and what I’d seen, I’d only have been able to give the most cursory of responses. You see, I hadn’t been walking the dogs at all—I’d been sleepwalking the dogs. I was completely lost in thought the whole time. I was walking around on autopilot, tuning out virtually all sensory stimuli in order to indulge whatever was going on in my mind. I was barely interfacing with my environment at all.

I realised two things that day. Firstly, that this is not a particularly satisfying way to live. And secondly, that human beings actually experience reality through a kind of bubble: an invisible mind-made bubble comprised of thoughts, words, concepts, memories and fantasies.

We tend to assume that we experience just a single, objective reality, but that is not the case. There are actually two levels of reality. Well, actually there are three, but I will go into that another time, as I want to keep this as simple as possible.

The first is the concrete objective reality. This is a shared reality, comprising where we are physically and what’s going on around us. The second is an abstract subjective reality. Made entirely of thought, this is a mind-based and therefore private level of reality. On my aforementioned walk, the latter was every bit as real to me as the first, and virtually all my cognitive energy was being channeled into it.

Even when the mind is comparatively quieter and we aren’t as lost in the ceaseless chatter of our inner monologue, there’s still no escaping the fact that this mind-bubble comes between us and a clear, direct, fresh experience of life. We’re asleep at the wheel, simultaneously inhabiting objective reality but so often lost in a superimposed, dream-like reality made entirely of thought. Pretty far out, huh?

This, by the way, is my cartoon depiction of the bubbles we live in…

thebubble

So what happens when our every experience is filtered by our mind-bubble? Basically, we no longer have authentic encounters with life, the world and other people. We no longer see and relate to what’s out there—instead we see and relate to our labels, concepts and judgements of what we think is out there. The latter is a level of complete projection and superimposition. We superimpose our thoughts and interpretations onto reality and fail to realise that in so doing we have coloured or distorted reality!

This is a mainly unconscious process and is considered normal for most people. We plod through life, lost in thought and out of touch with the world around us. You might even go so far as to say that every human being is engaged in a mind-created virtual reality. This virtual reality is always distorted to a greater or lesser extent and is often chock full of manufactured threats. We’re literally having bad trips and seeing all manner of horrors, many of which are simply imagined. Our inner world of course determines our behavioural responses and this explains why human behaviour is often incredibly warped and insane.

Where do we experience things?

Let’s take this even deeper. Bear with me—you will be duly rewarded, I promise. This is a radical understanding that, properly understood, is guaranteed to forever change the way you look at life.

As with most cool things in life, it starts with an interesting question. Where do we experience things? Do we experience things outside of us, or inside of us?

It’s natural to assume that we look through our eyes much the same way as we look out of a window, and that we experience reality out there. This is called ‘naive realism’. Here’s another Rory cartoon to illustrate:

perception

“Naive realism”: how we think perception and experience happens

 

But it’s actually impossible to experience anything out there. If I look at a tree, it might seem that I’m experiencing the tree over there. But I’m actually experiencing it in my mind. Data is being relayed by my senses and processed by my mind, which then creates an internal representation of a tree. What I’m experiencing is a tree thought!

Our entire experience of reality is simply a representation of reality created by our mind. We’re not experiencing a world of things out there, what we’re actually experiencing is a world of thoughts, in here.

The mind is the instrument by which we perceive objects; the mirror that reflects objective reality. We cannot perceive anything outside of our mind. No mind, no experience. So everything that we perceive and experience in life, even though it may appear to be outside of us, is actually perceived and experienced in our mind.

"Representational realism": how perception and experience actually happens

“Representational realism”: how perception and experience actually happens

The implications of this are pretty staggering! If you’re still reading this, you deserve a muffin.

Twice removed from reality

This obviously turns a few things on their head. The general assumption is that we simply experience things. When we actually stop to analyse the nature of experience, we come to realise that, as I said above, it’s not the things themselves that we experience, it’s our internal representation of those things.

And because of the mental overlay that filters our interpretation of experience, we rarely have an accurate, unbiased interpretation of experience. We lose touch with objective reality and get stuck in our own little subjective reality.

New stimulus is constantly coming in through the senses, creating new internal representations of reality. And the mind is constantly filtering those representations. Attempting to make sense of the input and discern a narrative pattern, the mind is constantly churning out thoughts and stories, based upon past conditioning, experiences and memories, beliefs and opinions, likes and dislikes and numerous other factors.

So not only is our perception of reality taking place within the mind, but it’s also filtered and interpreted by the mind. Our experience of reality is actually twice removed from reality!

Two levels of reality

One of the conclusions we can draw from this analysis is that it can be very difficult to separate the objective (what is) from the subjective (what we think is). We naturally assume that what we are experiencing is objective, but it’s almost always subjective.

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It’s on the subjective level where the problems lie. The bubble, as I call it, gets in the way: the mental repository of all kinds of faulty scripts and coding; self-sabotaging errors that colour everything we experience; everything that we think and do. Our mental filter gets distorted and this in turn generates a painful experience of reality.

The understanding that there are two levels of reality is an important one. In fact, it is the key to liberating your mind.

To summarise again, the levels of reality are:

The objective: the ‘real world’; the world of tangible ‘things’, namely objects and experiences. The reality we seemingly experience out there and which is more or less the same for everyone.

The subjective: the ‘inner world’; the filtered reality we experience as shaped by our thoughts, experiences and conditioning.

The problems arise when we confuse the two through a process of superimposition—and this happens all the time! Mistaking our interpretation of experience as being concrete reality is a surefire recipe for disaster and is in fact the root of just about all human conflict in the world. We’re not actually seeing things as they are. We’re instead trapped in our bubble; and the bubble can be a pretty miserable place to be!

live-in-bubble

Perhaps you can see how this creates all kinds of chaos in human interaction. Let’s say you come into the room and start talking to me. Here’s what will inevitably happen. My mind will filter and interpret what you are saying in line with what I already think and believe. It’ll be coloured by my general mood and any past experiences I may have had with you, be they good or bad. Accordingly, it won’t really be you or what you’re saying that I’ll be experiencing—it’ll be my own interpretations of you and what you’re saying.

Objective reality is always value neutral and it’s usually very simple. You entered the room and started talking; nothing more, nothing less. But I’ve lost touch with objective reality. I’m in my subjective reality. As far as I’ve concerned you’ve interrupted me when I’m busy, are talking crap and are a bit of a jerk. I see that as the reality of the situation. Only it isn’t reality at all.

Events in themselves are neutral. It’s our mind that assigns meaning and value to experience, either positive or negative. So my thoughts have distorted reality and caused suffering for me—and this will probably make me act in a certain way that causes offence or suffering for you too. Human relationships are so complex because each interaction involves not two people, but four. There’s not only you and I, but there’s your mental image of who you think I am and my mental image of who you think you are. These are almost like mental avatars, and it’s those avatars that are really driving relationships!

Experience is determined by thought

Let’s pull this all together. We don’t perceive anything outside of our mind; that’s simply not possible, for the mind is our instrument of perception. What we perceive are actually internal representations in our mind. Furthermore, we rarely experience those representations objectively. We perceive things as we think they are, for every experience is processed through the filter of our thoughts, beliefs, likes, dislikes and conditioning. Reality is value neutral, but the mind assigns value, either positive or negative. As Shakespeare wrote:

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

The mind’s job is to not only process sensory stimuli, but to attempt to make sense of it and fit it into some kind of narrative structure. It does this by creating stories around the things we experience. We relate to life through a veritable library of mental stories. When then tend to get stuck in these stories, which, through the process of projection and superimposition, we mistake as being reality. In actual fact, we’re completely out of touch with reality and are inhabiting a kind of virtual reality. If our thoughts and interpretations are suitably negative and self-limiting, this virtual reality can be our own living hell.

So what can we do about this? How do we deal with the bubble that’s filtering and distorting our reality? How do we stop ourselves getting sucked into subjective alternate realities and the suffering that comes along with them? We do that by bursting the bubble! We apply knowledge about the nature of mind and reality. Quite simply, we learn to reduce the subjective to the objective.  Once we’ve got a clear grasp on how to do that, we’re pretty much home free and that is what I will be exploring in the next essay.

Things I Wish I’d Known About Writing From the Start, Part 1: In Order to Write Well, You Have to Write a Lot

Originally posted on The Dreamlight Fugitive:

Hi everyone! This is the first in a series of short blogs in which I’m going to share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years as a writer.

man-writing-books

My journey to being a published author wasn’t always an easy one. In retrospect a lot of that was down to the fact I wasn’t approaching things with the right mindset. I’m naturally quite an idealistic and romantic person and looking back I can see how this, coupled with an unrealistic perception of the writing industry, a streak of crippling perfectionism and self-doubt, sabotaged my writing career for at least a decade. If I knew then what I now know, it would all have been so much easier!

The first thing I wish I knew back then was simply this: no one is born a good writer. Sure, some people do exhibit greater natural skill at writing that others. In school I was always praised for my…

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A Mind At War

Understanding and Ending the Civil War in Your Mind

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 One of the main reasons for psychological suffering, or ‘dirty pain’ (mind-created pain), is that almost everyone is fighting an inner civil war. Our mind is at war, and has been for most of our life. It’s a war that few of us are consciously aware of, but this inner conflict drives just about all our thinking, emotions, behaviour and relationships. It’s responsible for an enormous amount of suffering and stress. In short, this core conflict is the war between who we think we are, who we try to be and who we actually are.

Born Perfect

The seeds of this conflict were sown in early childhood, around the time we first began to understand linguistic communication and in particular that most lethal of all words: should. Contrary to the Christian notion of ‘original sin’, which teaches that we are born miserable, selfish, wretched sinners, I contend that we are born perfect. If you struggle with the word ‘perfect’, then think you might substitute it for ‘perfect imperfection’.

Philosophers, theists, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists have long sought to answer the age-old question of whether human nature is essentially good or bad. Looking back over human history and switching on the evening news it’s all-too easy to decide that human beings are not only bad, but also truly and irredeemably mad. The history books and media are full of accounts of human violence and savagery. There’s no getting away from this and it tends to be on such a scale that overshadows all else, as in the case of wars and conflicts, but it would be wrong to assume that this is all that human beings are capable of.

Swedish anthropologist Lasse Berg, having studied premodern tribal cultures for years has demonstrated that essentially human beings are a species of cooperation, peace, curiosity, with a desire to live in harmony. Scientists at Harvard and Yale have recently confirmed this with studies into human intuitive response. Their findings strongly indicated that we are predisposed to being cooperative rather than selfish and that human nature is essentially ‘good’. Greed, selfishness and violence is not then an innate part of our nature. It is a distortion of our nature. If our nature is fine, the dysfunction must come from our nurture and from living in a society that has lost all balance.

 

The Essential Self

SONY DSCWe all come into this world with an innate and essential perfection. No one (at least I would hope no one) looks down at a newborn baby and decides “nah, this is a crap baby! I want a better one.” The perfection is there, and even the most hardened of hearts can sense it, even if that baby does happen to do little more than burp, gurgle, cry and poop.

Our little baby bodies functioned exactly as they needed to, effortlessly knowing how to breathe and respire oxygen, how to circulate blood and digest food and how to grow according to the innate creative intelligence of the body—which is simply the creative intelligence of the universe (is there a difference? We are the universe!).

We cried when we were hungry, tired, or just plain cranky. It all happened so naturally. As we grew up and learned to walk, talk, play and laugh and express ourselves in so many different ways, there was an innate perfection to it all. We spontaneously expressed our own nature. This nature wasn’t chosen by us, or even by our parents. It was the factory default—our essential self; what we innately, authentically are.

None of us are responsible for the way things are set up. Our body and our nature were given to us—formed by numerous factors, both innate and environmental. We’re not even responsible for the thoughts that we think. They just kind of appear, don’t they? If you were the one doing the thinking, then you’d be able to tell me what you’ll be thinking in thirty seconds time. But you can’t. The thinking is largely just happening by itself.

Our essential nature expresses itself in its own unique way, but there are certain personality types and archetypes that humans fall into. Some people naturally love the outdoors, being in nature, or being among people, playing exuberantly, going on adventures, whereas others are naturally quieter and more introspective, creative and thoughtful. When we get to the section on the gunas we’ll develop an even greater understanding of the factors that differentiate us in terms of personality types and behaviour.

Tribal societies were often arranged by taking the natural human archetypes into account. There was an understanding that in order to thrive and contribute effectively to society, people had to express their authentic nature. Some people are natural born leaders and decision-makers, some are warriors, some are healers or mystics, some are artists, some are adventurers and pioneers or prefer to follow other people’s directives. In later chapters I’ll explore what in Sanskrit is called svadharma, our unique nature as determined by our psychological and physiological makeup.

stockvault-child107864When it comes to our essential nature, we have very little say in the matter. We are what we are. Human archetypes are naturally-occurring. Just as it’s pointless for a cat to begrudge being a cat and spend its time trying to be a dog, it’s pointless and harmful trying to resist and change our basic nature. We were made a certain way, and thinking that we should be different is an act of war against our very nature; a war we never have any hope of winning.

Just as every flower, blade of grass and cloud in the sky is a perfect manifestation of life as it is, it’s important to understand that there’s nothing we need to be, do, or acquire in order to be acceptable, valid human beings.

As young children we were expressive, spontaneous, open, inquisitive, non-judgemental and generally pretty much at one with life. Even though we no doubt had a fair few tantrums along the way, we were the epitome of life. We enjoyed an authenticity and a lack of self-consciousness that tends to blight later childhood, adolescence and much of adult life too.

The Imagined Self

The problems arise as we grow up and have to learn to conform to the wishes of our parents, teachers and then society. While to an extent this is necessary and healthy, it also tends to be where we get messed up. Whereas tribal cultures would honour each individual’s essential nature and assign them the appropriate place and duty in society, modern culture has no such appreciation of archetypes.

Completely out of balance and harmony, the modern ‘developed’ world revolves around a warped set of values, in which worship of money, materialism and rampant greed drive the engine of society. While on one hand our society places great emphasis on ‘individuality’, in many ways it really just wants us to tow the line and become perfect little cogs in the  great consumer-capitalist machine.

From a young age our essential nature is throttled out of us as we go through an education system that trains us to think and behave in a certain way, to get good grades and learn to make money, be productive and consume as much as we can. In modern society we become ‘consumers’ first and ‘people’ second. Our consumer society is rooted in convincing people that they are insufficient and lacking, and will remain so until they make enough money to buy lots and lots of stuff.

As we grow up, our essential self gets buried under layer after layer of sediment. The sense of limitless and openness that came so naturally to us as young children gets contracted into limiting, deadening and oh-so-heavy clusters of thoughts, beliefs and conditioning that bleed the very life and joy out of us.

As we develop language, the use of words and concepts creates a gradual but profound shift in our outlook and our view of ourselves and life. As a more solidified ego begins to take root, we get lost in a conceptual, mind-based sense of identity. Whereas before we never really gave much thought to our sense of self (it was just a given: “I am me!”) now we begin to piece together an imagined self, which is our mental self-image; our idea of who we think we are, measured against who we think we should be.

esteem_thoughtIt’s a sense of self derived from thought—and very often distorted ones at that. A bubble is formed—a buffer between us and reality. This invisible bubble, created out of thought, beliefs and opinions, is like an overlay we place over objective reality. Instead of experiencing ourself, others and the world as they are…we experience our thoughts about them. We begin to get lost in the subjective realm. Our imagined self, our mental self-image, begins to obscure our essential self.

Again, many things influence the formation of this imagined self: layers of conditioning, beliefs, opinions, likes and dislikes, and also gender roles, nationality, religion and a number of cultural and social variables. Virtually all of these things are programmed into us based upon environmental and societal factors. Parents, peers, authority figures, media and society at large tell us in a thousands ways, overt and subtle, who we supposedly are and who we should be.

In many ways this is a natural and necessary developmental process. We have to learn to balance our desires, wants and impulses, restraining them where appropriate, to function in society. With good parenting, this can be done in a healthy and harmonious way. It’s important to realise that this stage is very much like installing an operating system on a computer. Even the slightest little glitches will cause problems down the line; from minor errors to huge system-wide failures.

While children need to learn discipline and self-control as part of their developmental process, this is where a number of potentially crippling errors slip into the software. The moment we begin to internalise the word ‘should’, and all of the demands imposed upon us by usually well-meaning parents, teachers and other authority figures, we begin to feel, consciously or unconsciously that something isn’t quite right with us; that our natural way of being, behaving and expressing ourself is somehow wrong. We believe that in order to be acceptable to others, we have to be different.

You might think of this as the true ‘original sin’. In this context what does original sin actually mean? It means original error. To stick with our computing metaphor, a faulty script was embedded in our psyche—and that tiny little error will affect everything in our life from that point on.

The Social Self

The essential self has more or less been lost in the mix by this point. We forget who we are and begin to believe that we are who we think we are. We unquestioningly assume that our imagined self, our mental self-image, which was gradually programmed into us, is a true and accurate reflection of reality. The next stage in our development is a reactionary step: the creation of a social self. The social self is the person we are trying to be; the person we want others to think we are.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERABecause our self-image is almost always negative to varying degrees, we adopt a certain set of values and behaviours designed to present the most favourable version of ourselves as we can. The social self is a mask we present to the world. It’s rarely a particularly accurate or authentic representation of who we really are. It’s very much driven by our attempts to get validation—and if not validation, then at the very least attention.

The desire to fit in is something that is hard-wired into the human mind. We naturally want to keep in with the tribe. We have a deeply-ingrained need to be accepted, validated and to be in good standing with others (this obviously doesn’t account for people with personality disorders or other developmental issues, but that is a whole other discussion).

Throughout history human beings have lived in tribes, and it was essential that the individual maintained their place in the tribe, for to be cast out meant inevitable death. So it should come as no surprise that the moment people in positions of authority start making demands of us—making it clear that we will only get love and attention if we behave in the ways they want us to—some primordial mechanism in our psyche kicks in.

Because we naturally want to fit in and be loved and accepted, we do our very best to become the person we believe we ‘should’ be and behave in the ways we are ‘supposed to’. Some might argue that the only alternative is anarchy, but this is not true. By bringing all the social and imagined self into alignment and congruence with the essential self, we have a heck of a lot more we can contribute to society. Again, in later chapters we’ll discuss archetypes and following our own nature, which comes with its own inbuilt dharma, which means duty or right action. Life and the functioning of society can work so much better when lived from a core of authenticity.

A life at war

So far we’ve outlined how the inner war of the psyche begins. Perhaps it begins quite innocently, but it is a war against our very nature and over time it will gradually consume us. Our essential self gets buried under the weight of what others tell us we are and what we should be. This causes an often negative, distorted imagined self, which leads us to adopt the mask of a largely inauthentic social self. Perhaps you can see where this has happened in your own life? The symptoms are often a stifling dissatisfaction, the feeling that we aren’t living the life that feels right for us, that we’re compromising who we are and who we want to be in some way.

mastery-of-the-mindWe end up spending a lifetime trying to make ourself acceptable to others, to society and the world—and, above all, to ourselves. After all, when it comes down to it, the person with the biggest problem with us is usually us. How insane is that? If we had a dog that didn’t like itself or didn’t feel that it was adequate as a canine, then we’d think it pretty strange. That would have to be one very messed up dog! Yet this is almost the rule for human beings.

As I said before, this struggle in the psyche is quite unconscious for the majority of people. We are usually unaware of the core conflict that is driving our thoughts, emotions and behaviour—and consuming such a tremendous amount of energy.

Pretty much everything that we do is a means to elevate our lowly little imagined selves, to make us feel better by proving that we are worthy, valid and acceptable as human beings. Whether we channel our efforts into being successful at a chosen career, amassing great wealth, working out to have a hot body or having the biggest car or the prettiest garden in the neighbourhood, so much of what we do is based on the need to be more, better or different.

Some would contend that this pathological compulsion to prove ourselves is necessary to motivate us to get up off our behinds and actually do stuff. I disagree. If we felt good about ourselves we’d still do stuff, and we’d probably do it a heck of a lot better because we’d be doing it with the right attitude and not from a sense of lack and inadequacy. It’s far easier for a happy, whole and peaceful person to contribute to the world than it is for someone mired in misery and limitation.

Based on a lie

What good can come of war but suffering and the tendency for the conflict to perpetuate, leading to yet more suffering? And it’s all based on what? The assumption that we are not okay as we are: that we are insufficient, unworthy and unacceptable until we get manage live up to some externally-imposed ideal (and even then, the suffering and dissatisfaction perpetuates, projected onto some other area of perceived lack).

The war against our nature, the driving desire to validate ourselves by being, doing and acquiring whatever we think will make us whole is a huge waste of time and precious life energy. Why? Because, try though you might, you can’t ever gain what you never lacked. If you were born perfect, how can you ever lose that perfection? It doesn’t suddenly disappear one day in a puff of smoke and out the window.

A gold ring will always be gold. The ring might get a little dirty, scratched and tarnished over the years, but it can never lose its gold-ness. You can never lose the perfection of who you are any more than the ring can lose its gold. So what goes wrong? Ignorance happens. You convince yourself that you’ve lost it. Internalising the demands imposed upon you, you convince yourself that you need to be more, better and different in order to be sufficient. A sense of insufficiency becomes the driving force behind all that you do, and it creates a huge amount of suffering.

It’s time to move beyond that unaccountably self-destructive notion. It’s time to finally realise that no matter what you might think and what others might have told you…you are okay.

You are more than okay.

You don’t need to change anything about yourself. You can if you want to of course, but you no longer need to. You may still have a truckload of issues and so-perceived imperfections, garnered after a lifetime spent out of touch with your essential self and under the spell of the imagined self. This is only just mud covering the diamond. The muck isn’t the diamond, and the diamond isn’t actually in any way affected by the mud.

What we are at the core of our being is something beautiful and precious, something with the capacity to bring much value to this world. It’s time to see the mud for what it is: layers of accumulated, encrusted mind-stuff. Erroneous, distorted thoughts that we assumed told us something about who we were, but which didn’t in any way. Whether you now take the time to scrape off that sediment or whether you simply accept it and take your value from knowing that you are the diamond beneath, you can accept yourself as you are and finally end this inner war that has caused a lifetime of suffering.

I’m asking you to lay down your arms. You don’t need to fight against yourself any longer. You don’t have to acquire anything, be anything or do anything in order to be free. Freedom is simply the shedding of ignorance and realising, with the entirety of your being, that you are already free. It may not currently feel like it, so you might need to take a leap of faith until I fully prove it to you, but if you stick with this and keep up this line of inquiry, freedom will become a living, breathing reality for you. Let’s take the leap together. I’ve outlined the problem and next I will offer a solution.

The Problem of Suffering

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This is the first in a series of articles that will form the basis of a book to be published later in the year. It is about Jailbreaking the mind — everything I’ve ever learned about understanding the mind, overcoming psychological suffering and being free!

 

The wound is the place where the Light enters you – Rumi

No one escapes suffering in life. It’s simply not possible. It’s an unavoidable byproduct of being alive, and one of the most fundamental aspects of human experience. The very act of birth is suffering, and sooner or later every human being will grow to experience pain in many forms, from the stress of modern life, relationship difficulties, bereavements and eventually sickness, infirmity and death. Alas, it’s all part and parcel of being human.

While there’s no getting around that fact, there are ways to transcend it, to deal with the difficulties we face and to rise up from the ashes–stronger, wiser and more powerful, resilient and happier than before. Throughout history, attempts have been made to understand and offer solutions to this core human predicament. This has been the province of philosophers and theists for thousands of years, and in recent times modern psychologists too.

There’s a wealth of information, knowledge and support out there. But it’s still up to each individual to find, understand and apply that knowledge, and to dig the way out of the dungeon of our own mind, bit by bit. And that’s where many of us have been going wrong. We simply haven’t been trained to do so; to understand how the mind works, how thought generates emotion and how to keep it all in check.

Two types of suffering

There are two basic types of suffering. Understanding this is an important key to freedom. The first is the natural suffering that is an inevitable part of life and the second is the unnatural, mind-made suffering that is generated by our thoughts, beliefs and interpretations of life. Based on terms by psychologist Steven Hayes, I talk about this as ‘clean pain’ and ‘dirty pain’. The first is experienced by all living beings and includes experiences such as loss, sickness, old age and death. Although often very painful, a person with a healthy psychology is able to deal with the experience and move on from it in a reasonable space of time.

stockvault-girl-smoking-cigarette132395Dirty pain however is unique to human beings and is an entirely mind-generated suffering. Whereas clean pain generally resolves by itself, dirty pain can be a never-ending nightmare. It has the power to consume us and cause a lifetime of aguish and suffering.

Although it may have been triggered by an external experience, dirty pain is generated and sustained entirely by thought. It is subjective and interpretative rather than objective. It stems from the mind and can only be corrected on the level of the mind. It manifests in a number of different ways, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, resentment and many other neuroses.

Modern society is failing us

stockvault-pills116310The way human suffering is dealt with in modern society is wholly inadequate. While we have developed some excellent tools and therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, generally when someone goes to their doctor with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, they are given drugs that may at best numb the feelings, but will do nothing to tackle the root cause.

Recent studies have actually shown that antidepressants are barely any more effective than placebos, which has obviously caused great concern in the medical community—although it certainly hasn’t stopped widespread prescription of what might as well be sugar pills (and which would certainly have fewer side-effects).

In a stroke of genius, the pharmaceutical industry managed to propagate the chemical imbalance theory. This is the notion that depression and other mental/emotional issues are a biological disease that could only be cured by taking whatever medication they have to offer. But as Dr Ronald Pies, editor of The Psychiatric Times stated, “in truth the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists”.

While many people feel notion that depression is a disease notion takes the social stigma out of what is already a deeply painful and very real condition, it played right into the hands of the profit-hungry pharmaceutical industry and is also entirely disempowering. Brain chemistry is not something that is set in stone. It’s constantly changing, moment by moment. Every thought that we think actually changes the chemistry of the brain! So the idea that we need drugs to do that is laughable. Change your patterns of thinking and you literally change your brain.

There is a way out

There is a way out of depression and other forms of mental and emotional suffering— and I speak from experience. In our culture we like things to be easy and swift, and we’re trained to expect instant gratification, so simply popping a pill every morning obviously has great appeal. But it’s certainly not an answer to the problem; at the very best it might help us ignore the underlying issue.

??????????????????The way out of psychological suffering is actually pretty simple. It’s based on knowledge—knowledge of what drives the mind and our entire experience of life. But it does require work and consistent effort. It requires getting down into the trenches and having the courage to question all kinds of deeply-held thoughts, beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and about life. When any mechanical apparatus ceases to function the way it should, what do we do? We don’t try to mask the problem or patch it up in the vain hope it will get better. We have to actually take it apart and develop an understanding of how it works and how to fix it.

The tendency of the mind is to project the root of our problems onto external factors, but the truth is the large part of human suffering is generated by the mind. We’re in a prison of our own mind’s making. The mind spins a subjective reality that sucks us in, causing an incredible amount of needless pain and suffering, not just for ourselves but also others.

Stay tuned over the next few months for what will essentially be a crash course in understanding how the mind works, how it creates our suffering, and how to break free of it.

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